Ruthless tyrant Robert Mugabe and his wife were today said to be in military custody as army chiefs sought to seize control of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.
The 93-year-old despot’s decades in power seemed as if they could be at an end as soldiers gained control of government buildings and patrolled the city streets.
Heavy gun and artillery fire could be heard in northern parts of the city. The army’s supporters hailed the intervention as a “bloodless correction”.
Addressing the poverty-ravaged nation after taking control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, Major General Sibusiso Moyo said the military was targeting “criminals” around president Mugabe and pledged that order would be restored.
Maj Gen Moyo insisted Mugabe’s “security is guaranteed” and sought to deny the action was a military take-over.
A tweet claiming to be from the Zanu PF ruling party said this morning: “There was no coup, only a bloodless transition which saw corrupt and crooked persons being arrested and an elderly man who had been taken advantage of by his wife being detained.
“The few bangs that were heard were from crooks who were resisting arrest, but they are now detained.”
South African president Jacob Zuma spoke to Mugabe who indicated he was fine but being held at home.
The Foreign Office advised British citizens in the southern African country to “remain safety at home” or in their accommodation given the political turmoil.
“At the moment it’s very fluid and it’s hard to say exactly how this will turn out,” said Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
“The most important point to make is that everybody wants to see a stable and successful Zimbabwe and I think we are really appealing for everyone to refrain from violence, that is the crucial thing.”
Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, has been in power since Zimbabwe’s independence from white minority rule in 1980.
His brutal rule has survived through murder, bloodshed, torture, persecution of political opponents, intimidation and vote-rigging on a grand scale.
But army chiefs last night appeared to have moved against him amid signs that he was seeking to create a family dynasty by installing his ambitious wife Grace as his successor by sacking his deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa.
She is deeply unpopular among many Zimbabweans because of her lavish spending, including in London’s upmarket stores, while many around her struggled against the country’s crippling economy.
This morning armed soldiers in armored personnel carriers were deployed at key points in Harare, while Zimbabweans formed long lines at banks in order to draw out cash.
Maj Gen Moyo called on churches to pray for the nation and urged other security forces to “cooperate for the good of our country,” warning that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”
All troops were ordered to return to barracks immediately, with all leave cancelled, he added.
But at least three explosions were heard in the capital overnight.
The military actions appear to put the army in control of the country.
Army commander Constantino Chiwenga had threatened on Monday to “step in” to calm political tensions following Mugabe’s the seeming attempts to impose his wife as the country’s next leader.
Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party responded by accusing the general of “treasonable conduct.”
But the army was praised by the nation’s war veterans for carrying out “a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power.”
The military will return Zimbabwe to “genuine democracy” and make the country a “modern model nation,” said Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the War Veterans’ Association, a staunch ally of Mr Mnangagwa, who was fired from his post of vice president by Mugabe last week.
Mr Mnangagwa fled Zimbabwe last week but said he would return to lead the country.
Mugabe’s first wife Sarah Hayfron died in 1992 and he later married Grace.
He became Zimbabwe’s head of government in 1980 after 14 years of rebellion against the Crown headed by white Southern Rhodesian leader Ian Smith.
Much of Mugabe’s dirty work was carried out by his bullying henchmen, “veterans” of the guerrilla war against the Smith regime.
They attacked and often murdered white farmers, burning their homes, looting their possessions and confiscating their land, while his political opponents were often beaten, sexually abused and sometimes charged with treason and homosexual offences.
The economy of this mineral-rich country descended into chaos with thousands of people reduced to grinding poverty, many of them suffering from near-starvation and worse.
A former teacher, suffered political detention in 1962 and the following year co-founded and became secretary-general of ZANU.
Again he was sentenced, without trial, to political detention in 1964, but escaped in 1974 to Mozambique from where he led the armed struggle against the regime right up to 1979.
When in power, political enemies were accused of homosexuality, and thrown into jail. Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner, was assaulted by Mugabe’s bodyguards in 2001 when he tried to make a citizen’s arrest on the Zimbabwean leader.
In 2009, he accused Tony Blair’s government of encouraging “gay gangsters” to oppose him over his controversial land reforms.
Sanctions imposed on the country at one stage barred Mugabe and his family and supporters from visiting Britain.
But despite an EU travel ban, he was allowed to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome in 2005.
While there he shook hands with the Prince of Wales, who was seated one place away from the president. Clarence House said Charles was “caught by surprise” when Mugabe leaned over to greet him.
Under Mugabe many humble Zimbabweans became billionaires, but ones on the brink of starvation and unable to pay for fuel because their money was worth so little thanks to stratospheric inflation.
In 2008 and 2009, the state’s central bank printed so much of its currency – the Zimbabwe dollar – that the country experienced mind-boggling hyperinflation that reached 500 billion per cent, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The result was that items such as a loaf of bread would often cost millions of Zimbabwean dollars.
In 2008 Mugabe was stripped of his honorary knighthood, awarded in 1994, over his abuse of human rights and “abject disregard” for democracy, the Foreign Office said at the time. – Standard
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